Monday, March 4, 2013

2013 Stratford and Shaw Festival Theatre Previews

Thoughts on the Stratford Shakespeare Festival/Shaw Festival 2013 Seasons
By David Grapes – Arts Journalist
March, 2013

Theatre patrons, who are passionate about quality theatre here in the U.S., should consider a trip North across the Canadian border into Ontario and spend some serious time exploring North America’s two largest theatre festivals – The Stratford Shakespeare Festival and The Shaw Festival. The American dollar appears to have stabilized against the Canadian dollar, so the entertainment value when compared to the costs of theatre tickets for Broadway ($150+ average) or in London is high. And if you search the web, there are some excellent airfare deals for the upcoming summer into Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson airport for about $450.00 to $700.00 from most major US airports. Rental cars are readily available at the Toronto airport. (Try for the best airport rental rates) Driving time from the airport to either of the two festivals is less than two hours on four lane highways. Remember – Passports are now REQUIRED for any border crossing!

The Shaw Festival

Located in historic Niagara on the Lake (30 miles North of Buffalo 120 Miles South of Toronto) along the beautiful Lake Ontario shoreline The Shaw Festival is the only theatre in the world that specializes exclusively in plays by George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. During the last three decades, under the artful and highly creative leadership of Christopher Newton and Jackie Maxwell, the Shaw not only earned a reputation for innovative programming, stunning visuals, but also become home to one of the finest acting ensembles in North America.

Director Maxwell continues to produce excellent work as she explores the Festival’s expanded artistic mandate, which now includes newer Broadway musicals (The Light in the Piazza and Guys & Dolls) and modern classics (Arcadia).  While some in the Canadian theatrical community have criticized her for being overly fixated on female directors and playwrights, she continues to fill most of the seats, balance the books and produce many great nights in the theatre.

As the Shaw Festival celebrates its 53rd season this year audiences will be in for some real treats including: a large production of the popular American musical Guys & Dolls featuring Thom Allison who gave us a brilliant performance in Ragtime last season, Enchanted April and Major Barbara from Maxwell, an allstar production of Brian Friel’s The Faith Healer featuring Jim Mezon, Corrine Koslo and Peter Krantz, Canadian Playwright John Murrell’s adaptation of Shaw’s Geneva (now titled Peace in Our Time: A Comedy), and W. Sommerset Maugham’s Our Betters and Oscar Wilde’s brilliant satire of Victorian morals Lady Windermere’s Fan.

Another exciting development over the past five years has been addition of an intimate fourth performance venue – The Studio Theatre (which will seat 176 patrons). The new facility has hosted such diverse productions as John Osborne’s The Entertainer starring Benedict Campbell, Caryl Churchill’s provocative contemporary play Serious Money, When the Rains Stops Falling, Topdog/Underdog and Helen’s Necklace. This year the Studio Theatre will host Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia which is rather a mystery wrapped in a love story and enjoyed a successful Broadway revival last year in New York City.


Festival Theatre

Guys & Dolls  – April 12 to October 12
Lady Windermere’s Fan – May 9 to October 19
Enchanted April – June 25 to October 26

Royal George Theatre

Our Bettors – April 3 to October 27
Major Barbara – May 2 to October 19
Faith Healer – June 13 to October 6

Court House Theatre

Peace in Our Time: A Comedy – May 19 to October 12
The Light in the Piazza – July 4 to October 13
Trifles – May 29 to October 12

Studio Theatre
Arcadia – July 14 to September 7

David’s recommendations for the 2013 season

Patty Jamieson in Light in the Piazza in Ragtime (Directed by Jay Turvey)
Nicole Underhay and Benedict Campbell in Major Barbara (Directed by Jackie Maxwell)
Jim Mezon, Corrine Koslo and Peter Krantz in The Faith Healer (Directed by Craig Hall)
Moya O’Connell and Tara Rosling in Enchanted April (Directed by Jackie Maxwell)


Contemporary Play Reading Series
Educational Seminars, Workshops and Symposiums
Summer Camps
Teacher Days
Niagara Falls
Old Fort Erie/ Old Fort Niagara
Wine country excursions
Lake activities



Range from  $24.00 can (student matinees) to $110.00 can (weekends and openings)

Rush seats are available day of show
$30 rate for patrons under 30 years of age at any theatre
There are also excellent student discounts and group rates available




NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE CHAMBER of COMMERCE RESERVATION SERVICE (CCA) 905-468-1950. In the Court House on Queen Street, Box 1043, Niagara-on-the-Lake L0S 1J0. Reservation service for 1700 plus rooms, representing every hotel and a collection of approved inns, cottages and bed-and-breakfast homes. For a quality experience, let our trained specialists help you select CCA (Chamber of Commerce Approved) accommodation. All price ranges represented.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE BED and BREAKFAST ASSOCIATION (BBA) 905-468-0123 or 1-866-855-0123. Box 1228, Niagara-on-the-Lake L0S 1J0. Members are identified by BBA in the listings. Call or visit our website for a free availability search or to book online. We maintain high standards and adhere to a code of ethics. Book with a member.

ABOUT HISTORIC BED and BREAKFASTS IN OLD TOWN CENTRE These private homes, built before 1850, are within 4 short blocks of a theatre, dining and shops. Visit our website or contact the following homes in the Bed and Breakfast section: Adam Lockhart’s Storrington House, Annette Twining House, Apple Tree Bed and Breakfast, Barrett Cottage, B&B’s “Pacific”, Blaney House, Burns House, Davy House, Regent House, The Rogers-Harrison House, Royal Manor, Saltbox 1820 Cottage, Schoolmaster’s House. Open year-round. Central air. Full breakfasts. Private parking. Smoke-free. All rooms have private ensuite bathrooms. $100-$195.
ACCOMMODATION ALTERNATIVES NIAGARA A fine selection of licensed cottages, apartments and homes in Niagara, suitable to those who prefer privacy and self-catering accommodations. Nightly from $120, weekly from $750.

Check this BLOG in August for reviews of many of the 2013 Shaw Festival productions.

The Stratford Festival

Located in the bucolic hills of Southern Ontario in the working class town of Stratford, The Stratford Festival has grown from its humble beginnings in 1953 (two Shakespearean plays produced in a tent) to one of the largest and most respected theatre festivals in the world, now under the capable leadership of Antoni Cimolino.

Having completed of a 50 million dollar capital and endowment drive, long time patrons now enjoy improvements at all four of the Festival’s theatre venues, upgraded electronic services, and enhanced production quality on stage.  Exciting indeed has been the addition of a fourth stage known as the Studio Theatre located above the Avon Theatre. This small flexible space, which opened four years ago, is now home to new work by Canadian playwrights, workshops, productions, and for the first time in its short history – Shakespeare.  However, the Studio Theatre only seats 260 patrons, so if you want to see a popular production in the Studio Theatre, you need to purchase your tickets well in advance.

Variety has always been a hallmark of the Stratford Festival, where works by Shakespeare, Marlowe, Moliere and Ibsen share the stage with Broadway musicals and the comedies of Noel Coward and although Shakespeare will not dominate the large Festival Stage as he did three years ago, the Bard is still well represented and remains the artistic heart of the festival. This year the festival will offer up Romeo and Juliet, Othello, The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure. The 61stseason will also feature a large scale American musical (Fiddler on the Roof) on the Festival Stage while another popular Broadway musical (Tommy) takes up residence at the Avon. While there are many who would like to see musicals banned from the traditional repertoire - they continue to pay the bills. For example, 2008’s banishment of a musical from the Festival Stage had a very negative impact on Stratford’s bottom line.

There are many things to be excited about for the 61st anniversary season including the return of Brian Bedford to direct Blithe Spirit and star in the Merchant of Venice, an all star cast for Mary Stuart under the direction of Cimolino, the return of Scott Wentworth as Tevye in Fiddler and a Martha Henry production of Measure for Measure at the Tom Patterson.

While the US dollar has fluctuated in recent years against the Canadian dollar, this trip remains an outstanding value. And the US dollar has shown some renewed this past year. With Broadway prices soaring to $150-$300+ a ticket, it is hard to imagine that you could get more “bang for your entertainment buck” anywhere in the world than in Ontario, Canada.


Festival Theatre

Romeo and Juliet – May 1 to October 19
Fiddle on the Roof – April 23 to October 20
The Three Musketeers – May 18 to October 19
The Merchant of Venice – July 30 to October 18

Avon Theatre

Tommy – May 4 to October 19
Blithe Spirit – May 16 to October 20
Othello – August 4 to October 19


Tom Patterson Theatre

Measure for Measure - May 18 to September 21
Mary Stuart – May 3 to September 21
Waiting for Godot – June 13 to September 20

Studio Theatre

Taking Shakespeare – July 13 to September 22
The Thrill – July 28 to September 22

David’s recommendations for the 2013 season

Lucy Peacock and Seana McKenna in Mary Stuart  (directed by Antoni Cimolino)
Fiddler on the Roof (starring Scott Wentworth)
Merchant of Venice (starring Brian Bedford) (directed by Antoni Cimolino)
The Thrill (new Canadian play starring Lucy peacock)
Measure for Measure  (directed by Martha Henry)


Late Night with Lucy (cabaret with Lucy Peacock)
Family Series Events
Stageside Chats
Festival Tours
Celebrated Writers Series
Night Music – Special concerts each Monday evening June to August in the Festival Theatre
A wide assortment of classes, workshops, special events.



Range from  $20.00 to $135.00 (Canadian $)

Rush seats are available day of show
There are also excellent student discounts and group rates available





I recommend the Swan Motel (Downie Street South)

Watch this space in August for reviews of many of the 2013 Stratford Shakespeare Festival productions.

David Grapes has been a theatre producer/director/playwright and freelance theatre journalist for over thirty years. He holds a BA in Theatre from Glenville State College and an MFA in Acting/Directing from the University on North Carolina at Greensboro.

No comments: